By Peter Schwartz
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These days, sports teams and organizations are always trying to market to a younger audience. Whether it's the NFL trying to get kids to stay active with "Play 60," Major League Baseball trying to reintroduce the sport to kids with "Play Ball," or similar initiatives from the NBA and NHL, the goal is to get the kids excited about your product.
NASCAR is following in the footsteps of the other sports as four superstar drivers will guest star in six race-car themed episodes of Nickelodeon's preschool hit show "Blaze and the Monster Machines."
The first episode, titled "Race Car Superstar," debuts at 1:30 p.m. Monday, as Blaze transforms into a sleek and aerodynamic race car to free his new friends who had locks put on their tires by a car named Speedrick.
"Race to Eagle Rock" will premiere at 1:30 p.m. June 2. In that episode, Blaze and his monster truck pals transform into race cars with supercharged engines as they have to find a way to avoid Crusher's attempts to slow them down.
The remaining four episodes will debut this fall.
"Blaze and the Monster Machines" is currently the No. 1 preschool show on television in its time period and chronicles the adventures of a monster truck named Blaze and his 8-year-old driver, AJ. The series is the first preschool show on television that comprehensively covers all areas of "STEM," which stands for science, technology, engineering and math.
The racing town of VelocityVille is the setting for the special shows, as Blaze meets four new race cars -- Dash (Johnson), Mark Set-Go (Elliott), Fender (Kahne), and Rally (Patrick).
Rally is a race car who is always first to the track and never misses a chance to hit the raceway.
"I grew up watching cartoons and shows on Nickelodeon," said Patrick, who handles the No. 10 car for Stewart-Haas Racing. "So it's pretty cool that I actually get to be a character on a show now as an adult. I really enjoy getting to work on projects for kids, and I hope they cheer for Rally as she races against the guys in VelocityVille."
Patrick currently sits in the 23rd place in the Sprint Cup standings.
Dash, voiced by Johnson, is a car that is fun, friendly and fast. Johnson, No. 48 for Hendrick Motorsports, is currently fifth in the race for the Sprint Cup and has two wins this season.
Elliott provides the words of Mark Set-Go, a sensational starter with rock-star style and a signature rhyme.
"I thought it was a cool experience," said Elliott, who drives the No. 24 car for Hendrick Motorsports. "I've never really done anything like that at all, so it was something new. You definitely have to get out of your element, and so it was neat to do something different. I'm excited to see how it turns out."
Elliott is currently seventh in the Sprint Cup standings.
Excited to share the track with Blaze, Fender is a car that rules the raceway. Kahne, 20th in the Sprint Cup standings, provides the voice for Fender.
"I had a great time recording 'Blaze and the Monster Machines,'" said Kahne. "It was really tough to try and say what you're supposed to say in the correct voice and in the right manner."
To celebrate the special episodes, the "Blaze and the Monster Machines" app now has a VelocityVille location and features 15 new levels that focus on the STEM concept of velocity. The update is available on iOS and through Google Play. Also, NickJr.com and the Nick Jr. app have an exclusive first-look at the race-inspired episodes.
Nickelodeon never disappoints when it comes to kids shows, and these special episodes of "Blaze and the Monster Machines" should be no different. Blaze is one of my son Jared's favorite shows, so he's super excited to see the new characters that are voiced by four super drivers from NASCAR.
And I'm sure there are plenty of other kids who are similarly pumped up.
Follow Pete on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow @NickelodeonTV and @nickjr.
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